AP battle over, copyright war still on

by Mathew on June 20, 2008 · 4 comments

The Associated Press has apparently decided to fold its tent and exit the blogosphere copyright battlefield, at least for now. According to a statement by Rogers Cadenhead, the newswire and he have reached a settlement of some kind, in which the AP has agreed to not pursue further action against him over excerpts from AP stories posted to his site The Drudge Retort. A statement by the Associated Press said:

“The AP was able to provide additional information to the operator of the site, Rogers Cadenhead, on Thursday. That information was aimed at enabling Mr. Cadenhead to bring the contributed content on his site into conformance with the policy he earlier set for his contributors. Both parties consider the matter closed.”

As Rogers notes in his post, however, the AP declaring the matter closed does nothing to resolve the larger conflict between how AP interprets fair use and how thousands of people are sharing news on the web (a conflict that — if it were to go to court — the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others say AP would likely lose). I am inclined to agree with Salon founder Scott Rosenberg, who says:

“What this means, I’m afraid, is that the AP/Drudge Retort matter has not been the resolution of anything at all, and that we are likely to see a larger and longer conflict unfold, between the AP’s efforts to nail down its rights to smaller and smaller bits of its content and the desire of bloggers (and their readers) to quote headlines and brief excerpts.”

AP was supposed to be coming out with a statement of some kind that would detail what they consider to be fair use of their content, but it’s not clear now whether that’s happening or not. Although Robert Cox of the Media Bloggers Association — who Cadenhead asked to help him with the copyright dispute — says in his recap of the events that the AP has no intention of suing bloggers for using brief excerpts, we have nothing but his word on that. As Gabe Rivera notes in a comment at Jeff Jarvis’s blog, the last public statement from the AP on the matter said that even short excerpts from AP stories were not permitted.

As Saul Hansell points out in his roundup of the events, the AP has “punted on its commitment to clarify” where it stands, and appears committed to the idea that quoting even a headline and the lede paragraph of a story is verboten. That is a serious problem. As Rogers says in his post: “If AP’s guidelines end up like the ones they shared with me, we’re headed for a Napster-style battle on the issue of fair use.” Particularly reprehensible in this whole affair has been the way in which the AP has dealt with the issue, Mike Masnick says:

So far, the public communication from the AP has been (1) identical cut-and-pasted comments on a number of blogs, (2) a couple of quotes given to reporters, (3) possibly some private discussions with unnamed bloggers, and (4) a private meeting with a representative for the Drudge Retort… That’s not a resolution. That’s denial.

As more than one person has pointed out, the AP’s biggest problem isn’t bloggers or even scrapers posted its stories — its biggest problem is that its entire business model is outdated and under threat, just as the record industry’s model was when it got defensive and started attacking individual downloaders. If the wire service decides to go that route, it should be well aware of what lies ahead.

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